As a pastor of a new church plant, I have the opportunity to dream about what our potential building will look like one day. Will it match the scenery of the neighborhood we are in? Will it have modern touches that appeal to the average American? What will the architecture and aesthetics of our building communicate to the watching world? Over the past forty years, as churches have sought to cater to people through attractional services, programs, and buildings, I believe that something has been lost with the constant sense of immanence in our buildings and the lack of transcendence. What do I mean by that?
Historically, churches wanted to communicate something with their buildings. They were not simply spaces to worship, though they did exist for that purpose—the building itself communicated an attribute about God: his transcendence. When you walk into an ancient cathedral, towering with high ceilings, you gain a sense of your finitude. Few people boast in their own power when standing at the base of Everest. Architecture has the power to humble a man under the transcendence of God communicated through a well-designed facility. To be clear, worshipping in a building that communicates the transcendence of God does not invoke the presence of God magically; rather, it designates and demonstrates that you are in a sacred space.
Again, many churches moved away from buildings that felt austere because they wanted to appeal to non-Christians in a more friendly environment. Lest we forget, God is not a product to be marketed and a good to be consumed, but the holy and ferociously jealous God of the universe. Personally, what if non-Christians were not looking for a comfortable environment but a different environment. I can experience the comforts of modern church buildings anywhere, I can only experience the sacredness and the uniqueness of God’s people worshipping the Triune God in this space. What if a means of winning the nations in our city is what our building communicates to people: through the church, God invitees you into his bigness. I want non-Christians to feel comfortable and welcome, at the same time, I want the building and the service to feel foreign; I want the space and liturgy to invoke curiosity about our practices and the God we serve.
This is not to say that God should always be transcendent, for we know that God must at the same time become immanent. This is where the body of Christ becomes a tangible representation of the word made flesh. As the people of God extend a hand of fellowship, create a welcoming and hospitable environment, confess their sins, partake in the sacraments, and live out the story of God with their friends and neighbors, those who are far from God experience both the transcendence and immanence of God via the body of Christ.
So pastors, are we thinking about what our buildings communicate? Are we seeking to show the beauty, complexity, and transcendence of the glory of God? Or are we attempting to market the God of the Bible as another common good that people need to consume? May we seriously consider building a more robust architectural theology that leads to the expansion of God’s kingdom, on earth as it is in heaven.